Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa


									                         Innovative ways
                                  of appropriating
                         mobile telephony
                                  in Africa

Directorate-General of
    Global Affairs,
  Development and

I N T E R N A T I O N A L    T E L E C O M M U N I C A T I O N      U N I O N
M I N I S T R Y   O F   F O R E I G N   A N D   E U R O P E A N   A F F A I R S

Innovative ways
       o f appropriating
mobile telephony
       i n Africa
                                                    Annie Chéneau-Loquay
This report is published by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the
International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It was drawn up by Ms Annie Chéneau-
Loquay, Research Director at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), as part of
a cooperation project between the MAEE and the ITU.

The publishers would like to thank Mr Souheil Marine, Head of the ICT Applications and
Cybersecurity Division (CYB) of the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), for
supervising the production of the report. We also wish to thank Mr Christian Tison and
Ms Nathalie Brat from the Information and Communication Technology Cluster within the
MAEE (General Directorate for Globalization, Development and Partnerships, Department for
Cultural and French-language Policy) and Mr Fernando Lagraña, of the BDT Editorial
Committee, for all their assistance.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, by any means whatsoever,
without the prior written permission of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs
and of the ITU.

Denominations and classifications employed in this publication do not imply any opinion on
the part of the ITU, its Secretariat, Member States, Sector Members and Associate
Members, or the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs concerning the legal or other
status of any country, territory, town or geographical zone, or any endorsement or
acceptance or recognition of any boundary, or other territorial limit. Where the designation
“country” appears in this publication, it covers countries and territories.

The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily
represent those of the French MAEE or of the ITU and its Member States, Sector Members
and Associate Members or its Secretariat.

                                         © UIT, 2010
                   International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Geneva
                                        © MAEE, 2010
                      Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE)
                                  ISBN : 978-2-11-098247-6
                                      ISSN : 1160-3372
Table of contents


Introduction........................................................................................................................      1

1       The different worlds of mobile telephony .................................................................                        3
        1.1     Matching a supply.........................................................................................                4
        1.2     …to users' "ways of doing" ...........................................................................                    4
        1.3     …which is creating a new, largely informal economy ...................................                                    8
        1.4     What impact?................................................................................................             12

2       Designing the right products and services ...............................................................                        20
        2.1   Financial services achieving real success ....................................................                             20
        2.2   Online system of information for agriculture struggling
              to become established..................................................................................                    24
        2.3   Humanitarian work and health care ..............................................................                           25

3       Summary of results and future prospects ................................................................                         29
        3.1  Advantages and drawbacks of information systems based
             on short message services (SMS)................................................................                             30
        3.2  Towards the mobile web for all? ...................................................................                         30
        3.3  What kind of social change?.........................................................................                        32

Conclusion.........................................................................................................................      35

References ........................................................................................................................      37

                 Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Growth in mobile telephony in Africa has              a tool that is especially suited to the needs
surpassed the most optimistic predictions             of a continent in which social life is intense
of operators. This is the "miracle", an               and based on oral communication.
undeniable success story in Africa and
one that has vindicated a competitive                 What are the different environments in
economy which, according to the ITU,                  which mobile telephony is used in Africa?
should be further encouraged1. From 51.4              As a tool it is not the same for everyone, it
million in 2003, the number of subscribers            is not obtainable everywhere in the same
grew to 264.5 million in 2007 and 375                 way and its various functions are applied
million by the end of 2008 (Africa Next2),            differently according to the particular
seven times the growth seen in fixed                  regional contexts – the downtown district
telephone lines. Mobile networks can fill             of a capital, the business districts, the
gaps in fixed networks by allowing access,            informal economy neighbourhoods, the
with their cellular coverage, in areas that           poor outer suburbs or satellite towns, and
are otherwise not covered. The number of              rural areas. In Africa, the uses of mobile
phones grew from 4.19 per 100                         telephony reflect the fact that access has
inhabitants in 2002 to 27.5 in 2007 and 32            become more democratic and has been
in 2008. This is the fastest growth rate in           opened up to all population groups,
the world: 77 per cent between 2005 and               including those on low incomes seeking
2006, 40 per cent on average over the                 ways of minimizing expenditure. This is
period 2005−2008. Since 2005, the                     the area of retail and second-hand
number of mobile phones has exceeded                  economies. On the other hand, for low-
the number of fixed line phones in all                income population groups the appearance
countries. Area coverage is now around                and content of telephones are not trivial
80 to 90 per cent in urban areas in most              issues. They have become indicators of
countries, and around 40 per cent on                  individual identity. Use of technology is an
average in rural areas. There are,                    aspect of an individual's life in society and
however, considerable inequalities, as                it is simplistic to view the impact of ICTs
mobile       penetration     rates     vary           solely in terms of cost, functionality and
considerably, from 90 phones per 100                  simplicity of interface (Cardon 2005).
inhabitants in Gabon or South Africa to
fewer than 2 in Ethiopia 3 (ITU figures               By understanding the different mobile
except              2008,           African           telephony environments in Africa, we
Telecommunication/ICT Indicators 2008).               should be better able to design products
                                                      and services that are and/or can be
Today, the advantages of the telephone                adapted to users' needs. What are the
have been shown through practice, and for             tried and tested applications and what new
all users, irrespective of their social               ideas are being developed for useful new
background or geographical situation. It is           applications that will match the capacities
                                                      of intended users and meet the cost-
                                                      effectiveness     criteria    of   product
    African Telecommunication Indicators 2004.        developers?
    A company specializing in the study of the
    telecommunications market in Africa.
    Although figures may be misleading: as one
    individual may have more than one phone while
    another shares his with members of his family.
    See: Report in "Secteur privé et développement"
    No 4 November 2009 (references in

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

1      The different worlds of mobile telephony

Owing to its particular configuration, the       invent on an everyday basis 4 of which
cellular network allows access in                manufacturers are unaware: they make
peripheral areas lacking any other modern        resourceful use of makeshift solutions and
telecommunications infrastructure. This          short cuts in order to create a personal
relative    "egalitarian trend"      in   the    way into the world created by the
communication           environment         is   manufacturers and to appropriate the
paradoxically what makes it possible to          technologies for their own use.
create low-cost uses both in poor urban
and peripheral areas lacking fixed
telephone lines and in rural areas. In town      According to Serge Proulx, social
centres, which are dominated by                  appropriation requires that four conditions
administration and commercial activity,          be met:
users tend to be much the same as those
elsewhere in the world: business people,
trendy younger people, managers and              "Technical and cognitive command of the
office workers. But the rapid rise in the use          artifact; meaningful integration of the
of mobile telephony reflects the fact that it         technical object in the user's everyday
is not the preserve of a privileged few. It is
used by street artisans and traders, and             practice; repeated use of the technology,
has been adopted by farmers, who                      which opens the way to creativity; and
understand      the    advantages      of    a        lastly, at a more strictly collective level,
prepayment system that can be used
easily by everyone, even if it remains                social appropriation presupposes that
rather expensive.                                    users are adequately represented in the
                                                     processes of establishing public policies
Mobile telephony in Africa illustrates one           and at the same time taken into account
fundamental feature of the way in which                  in the process of commercial and
the new technologies are being used:
                                                       industrial innovation and production."
innovation comes about as much as a
result of user practices as in laboratories.                 (Breton and Proulx 2002).
The talk is of "innovation through use"
which Dominique Cardon defines as
"technological and service innovations that      4
                                                       Michel Certeau, L'invention du quotidien, 1980.
come about as a result of user practices               This strongly influenced studies of usage in
and are disseminated through the                       France and trends in British cultural studies.
exchange networks between users"
(Cardon 2005). The approach adopted by
Michel     de    Certeau,     with   subtle
descriptions of users' "arts of doing" and
"ways of doing", has shown how ordinary
people demonstrate creative abilities to

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

1.1    Matching a supply…                       one directory is supplied to allow shared
The explosive growth in mobile telephony
in the developing world is linked to the
advent of cheap phones selling at less          In Kenya, the operator has developed a
than USD 20, a dynamic second-hand              service that allows the user to call
market, and the efforts made by the             someone and make the phone ring long
manufacturers and operators, who have           enough for the addressee to know he must
been skilled at matching products and           return the call, a way of getting the
services to the demands of society as it        addressee to call rather than calling
actually is. They have employed                 oneself. The built-in pocket lamp is
anthropologists to acquire a better             another example of a product that has
understanding of customer thinking and          been developed through a customer-
habits. Since 2000, they have completely        centred approach.
changed their economic model. Instead of
going for a wide profit margin with a limited
user base, they have given priority to a
new model based on a narrow margin
based on a broader customer base and a          1.2      …to users' "ways of doing"
sales policy that is adapted to lower
                                                In actual fact, it is the local context that
incomes. They have extended network
                                                determines the way in which the telephone
coverage      and     promoted     technical
                                                is used, and all manner of stratagems are
innovations in order to facilitate use. The
                                                applied to minimize the cost of
first big innovation was the introduction of
                                                communications - beeping someone,
prepaid systems, now used by 98 per cent
                                                pooling, making use of SMS in preference
of users, who buy cards for prices starting
                                                to calls, using more than one chip or
at USD 2.04 in West Africa and are thus
                                                device – but also to allow the users to
enabled to make use of online electronic
                                                identify themselves and help one another.
systems of credit transfer from phone to
                                                These methods make use of forms of
phone. It is now possible almost
                                                social organization built around multiple
everywhere to transfer credit to another
                                                social networks. In West Africa and
subscriber using an SMS for very small
                                                Senegal in particular, in a "cluster" society
sums: USD 0.40 in Nigeria and Burkina
                                                as it has been called by Emmanuel Seyni
Faso, or USD 0.20 in Senegal. Charging
                                                Ndione, 5 networks are proliferating and
by the second is also widespread. Texting
                                                can be activated as they are needed. This
and SMS offer another easy way of
                                                operates at every level, financial,
sending information. In an effort to capture
                                                emotional, and so on. Each individual is
market share and beat the competition,
                                                encouraged to be productive and seek
operators strategically organize price-
                                                ways of contributing to the network, which
cutting campaigns to coincide with
                                                in turn helps and supports its members.
religious events such as Tabaski, Korite,
Gamou, Magal, and so on (Gueye 2010).

                                                One example of such practices is the
                                                widespread use in Africa of "beeping"
SIM card prices have fallen considerably        or "flashing” whereby a call is made
(USD 5.12 in Senegal for the same call          solely in order to make the addressee's
credit as in 2009). In Dakar, Bamako or         phone ring, without waiting for a reply or
Yaoundé, it is possible to find telephones      even expecting one. One retailer selling
that can take two SIM cards, allowing the       credit in Mali explained that "beeping" was
user to take advantage of different rates       like tapping someone on the shoulder just
applied by different operators who charge       to remind him you are friends (Pelckmans
more for connections outside their own          5
                                                    Enda Graf Sahel: Une Afrique s'invente….
networks. With certain brands, more than

              Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

2009). In Mali, Senegal or Burkina Faso, a     example, the Ministry of Health of Burkina
beep sent to someone who is financially        Faso), or of a private company. These
better off is often not just a mark of         networks are then formally established
friendship but a request to be called back     and propose to a mobile telephone
and thereby avoid the cost of the call.        operator a minimum number of members,
                                               who are to have the opportunity of
                                               communicating among themselves on an
Similarly, the practice of transferring        unlimited calls basis. Each member pays a
telephone      credit    is   simply       a   fixed    monthly     price    of    between
continuation of the traditional and long-      USD 10.24 and USD 20.48. Members
established practice of transferring           have a real incentive to choose these
money by phone which is founded on             networks, as if they were obliged to pay
notions of trust and mutual assistance.        the current standard rates of (for example)
The practice has grown naturally through       USD 18, they would have only 50 minutes
mobile phones even before operators            worth of calls. The mobile operator
have had time to create special                benefits from economies of scale due to
procedures for such services. All that is      the interconnectivity between individuals in
required is to entrust a sum of money to       a group of a given size. In general, there is
someone known to you and ask him to get        a minimum size of network below which it
one of his business contacts or                is not viable from the operator's point of
acquaintances to transfer the sum to           view. Thus once the fixed monthly charge
someone at a specific place, either for free   is established (on the basis of the original
or in return for payment. This is the          number of members), it will not change as
method used by migrant workers to send         new members come into the group, so that
money to their families without going          the operator's profits increase (Kabore
through companies like Western Union,          2010).
which charge high rates. In addition,
telephone credit can be used to send cash
to someone in a way that is far faster and     Phone sharing is common in villages
more reliable than entrusting money to         where individual ownership is still rare.
travellers.                                    Serigne Mansour Tall has studied the
                                               communal use of portable phones in the
                                               village of Gade Kébé (population: 150) in
                                               the Louga region of Senegal. The portable
Buying a phone and making it work puts a       phone owned by a woman whose husband
strain on budgets, and this has prompted       has emigrated to Italy is not just the
some people to band together in order to       "receiving point for domestic calls for all
buy phones and obtain better rates. At         the villagers" but also a means for
one of Khartoum's universities, students       disseminating information on ceremonies
have set up a "tontine" scheme that allows     and a tool for young girls looking for
members to set aside money and obtain          employment in someone's home, or for
the sum they need to buy a phone               traders established in the village. Thus,
(Brinkman et al. 2009). In Burkina Faso,       while the use of mobile phones is very
pools are formed by professionals to force     widespread in Senegal and indeed more
the price down.                                or less everywhere else in Africa, social
                                               relationships are fashioned in such a way
                                               that communal forms of use continue,
                                               even if individual use now predominates
The pool is based on the fact that in          (Tall 2002).
general, the communications network of
economic agents is known. It may
comprise actors involved in related            Having more than one telephone or SIM
activities (salespeople, for example),         card allows people to take advantage of
employees of the same ministry (for            the different deals on offer from different

              Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

operators, bonuses for certain events or       information, and it is here that the SMS
times, preferential rates, and so on.          plays a key role in the rural and urban

Another widely used method of
minimizing costs is to send text
messages using the short message
service (SMS) or texting. Here practice in
Africa tends to be similar to that seen in      "A young bush nurse in Santidougou, a
more developed countries.                       village about 35 kilometres from Burkina
                                               Faso's second city, in an area where the
One study by Moustapha Ndiaye on                cellular signal is intermittent, informs us
telephone use in Senegal's third city Thiès     that he has found a tree from the top of
and in the French city of Rennes in 2007          which he has been able to send and
and 2008 shows that the most used
functions differ according to users' age. As    receive SMS messages. Before starting
in Europe, messaging is used more by            work at 7 in the morning, he would climb
young people under the age of 25 years,        the tree to send off or receive messages.
those over that age tending to prefer voice
calls. For the youngest users, choosing to         He did this as often as necessary.
send text messages in preference to voice       Villagers would regularly give him their
calls follows from their lower purchasing       prepaid cards and ask him to send SMS
power. One SMS message costs
USD 0.02 in Senegal today. In addition,           messages for them. Such examples
the tendency among younger users to use         abound in the villages of Burkina Faso."
messaging while older users prefer voice                     (Kibora 2009).
calls is also partly due to their greater
adaptability. In Africa as elsewhere,
portable phones make it possible to
establish links with peer group members
outside the family. This process of opening
up to the world outside the family is also     Young public officials act as public "digital
drawing in new values that together create     scribes" or intermediaries in order to read
a "generational identity", and young people    the messages. It is not, however, essential
are making their own distinctive mark on       to fully master writing; the key thing is to
mobile telephony (Ndiaye 2008).                make oneself understood. Kibora cites the
                                               example of a commonly used message at
                                               the critical time in arranging a marriage,
But SMS use is far from confined to the        "PPS de fati samdi o vilag". The
younger age group. It is paradoxically         abbreviation PPS, which stands for a
used even by people who are illiterate in      greeting to the woman, has been taken
order to save money. One surprising            and developed by young people in the
example in a "society based on the oral        capital and spread to the populated areas
tradition" is cited by Ludovic Kibora in       of Moré.
connection with Burkina Faso. He notes
that the process of circulating information
by word of mouth appears to have been          According to Norbert Ouendji, "in
largely superseded by SMS messages. A          Cameroon, the Short Message Service is
wedding invitation, death announcement,        used by a substantial number of people
or simple greetings, are now being sent by     and has been a habit among consumers
SMS, as it would be inconceivable in           since the end of 2000. Some 38.5 million
terms of cohesion within a given social        SMS were sent in 2003. That number has
group not to pass on a piece of                grown spectacularly with every passing

              Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

spring and passed the 500 million mark in        Senegal's second city, shows how the
2008" (Ouendji 2010).                            device becomes an expression of the
                                                 individual's identity especially its external
                                                 aspects. The individual's identity is
This preference for using SMS is being           reflected in the choice of phone brand, its
exploited   by    those    involved    in        colour, size, idle display and ring tones.
development, as we shall see later on.           Women are said to be especially sensitive
                                                 to this and change the phone as often as
                                                 possible. For example, the idle display will
On the other hand, and unlike what               sometime display an image of users'
happens in Europe, voice messaging is            favourite performers, their home region,
little used in Africa as it presents a           the symbol of a group to which they
problem in a society where one does not          belong, or their beliefs (Ndiaye 2008).
talk to a machine, and a financial one           The variable "means of acquisition" also
given the general reluctance of people to        has a particular connotation in the context
pay for calls when the intended                  of the appropriation of mobile telephony. In
correspondent is not available (Garron           the case of a phone obtained through an
2008).                                           acquaintance living and working abroad
                                                 (80 per cent of the cases studied by
                                                 Ndiaye), the phone shows that the user is
The telephone has become an integral             a relation, friend, partner or spouse of a
part of the people's lives, one which in         Senegalese citizen living abroad. In the
the words of a Sudanese saying "eats and         case of a portable phone purchased by an
drinks with me" (Brinkman et al. 2009).          individual with his or her own resources,
Moustapha Ndiaye, in his study on the            the phone is a statement of the owner's
uses of mobile telephony in Thiès,               social status.

 Prepaid card sellers in Dakar, September 2007

                  Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Isabelle Garron6 in her studies on Usages                 3.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa
du    téléphone     mobile     en   Afrique               (ITU 2009)7.
subsaharienne au Congo has shown how
music, which is omnipresent in the city and
in Congolese life, is exchanged mainly                    The case of the expansion of call
from computer to phone and from phone                     centres thanks to the explosive growth
to phone (using Bluetooth). The mobile                    in mobile telephony is emblematic of
phone is a tool for music professionals and               this new ICT-based economy. The
a platform for activities shared by                       banking sector in Africa, and especially in
professionals, the public and places of                   Nigeria and Kenya, is for the first time
transaction. Music and video files express                trying out call centres. It is interesting to
contents, codes, and modes of self-                       note why this expansion is taking place
affirmation. Ring tones express a sense of                now, whereas banks in South Africa and
belonging and provide a medium for                        elsewhere went through this revolution
promoting artists. In Brazzaville residents               ten/fifteen years ago, as Dave Paulding
of a district which is also home to a                     has noted 8 . Nigeria and Kenya are
musical band help to support their band                   growing and relatively stable economies,
using their phone ring tones. "In Ouenzé, a               but another major factor is the fact that
neighbourhood in the north of Brazzaville,                African consumers are more connected.
you can hear Extra Musica Zangul and Z1                   They are looking for new ways of
international, while in Bacongo and                       contacting their banks rather than going to
Makélékélé you can hear Rapha                             branch offices. The explosion in mobile
Bounzéki…" (Garron 2008).                                 telephony has led to a rapid growth in
                                                          demand for contact with network
                                                          operators.    Customers       have     grown
The telephone has become indispensible.                   accustomed to connecting with their cell
It is so much a part of everyday life and                 phone operator by phone and demand the
culture that it has been totally                          same level of sophistication in other
"domesticated" (de Bruijn et al. 2009).                   services such as banking. In general, once
Clearly, the mobile phone is more than                    the call centre is set up and running, the
merely a means of calling or sending                      number of employees will grow in line with
messages, photos, music and phone                         the demand for its services (Paulding
numbers. It also expresses the relative                   2010).
importance and style of the user (Pilaf
                                                          Most of the jobs created, however, are not
                                                          registered jobs but part of the huge
                                                          informal economy which accounts for at
1.3      …which is creating a new,                        least 60 per cent of GDP in Africa9.
         largely informal economy                         7
                                                              ITU: Connect Africa: Investing        in   Africa's
The new information and communication                         progress, Vol. II, Jan. 2009. p.12.
technologies are a major factor behind the                8
                                                              Regional Sales Director for the UK, Middle East
expansion of the private sector in Africa. In                 and Africa, Interactive Intelligence Inc.
2007, the mobile telephone sector                         9
                                                              The notion of the informal sector, a term coined
employed, directly or indirectly, more than                   by Keith Hart in 1973, showed empirically one
                                                              dimension of a phenomenon that would acquire
    Telecom Paris researcher has shown that music             considerable      significance   in     developing
    is omnipresent in the city and the life in general,       countries. Lautier, De Miras and Morice defined
    and is an emblem of Congolese culture.                    the informal economy as the set of all economic
                                                              activities not covered by legal standards with
                                                              regard to taxation, social security, legal aspects
                                                              and statistics. [Lautier, De Miras, Morice 1991].

                   Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Surveys in Burkina Faso, Cameroon and                    increase their rates because                  sellers
Senegal          have         shown       that           refused to sell their cards11.
telecommunications make up the core of
all activities generated in the informal
sector of concern to the ICTs. Large                     Hundreds of young people find work in
foreign enterprises that have invested in                selling, repairing, reprogramming and
mobile telephony have applied outsourcing                charging portable phones. They are
and subcontracting strategies with regard                generally not people who have studied
to their services in the quest for greater               telecommunications     engineering    but
flexibility that will reduce labour costs and            retrained sales     people    who    take
pass on the cost of fluctuations in demand.              advantage of their previous experience in
The effect of subcontracting has been to                 sales and using phones. One article in Le
encourage informal employment. Job                       Monde describes this form of activity in
opportunities have been created in                       Bamako.
response to the need for small
neighbourhood retail services for users.
From import of products to itinerant street
traders, an entire range of new service
activities is growing up and making its
mark on the urban landscape (Chéneau-                    "Armed with a toothbrush or soldering iron
Loquay 2008).                                             and working by the light of a homemade
                                                              lamp… an artisan restores a defective
                                                          mobile phone to life. Cost: " CFAF 5 000
Mobile telephony generates all manner of                      (7.50 euros) for a basic model, three
commerce in new or second-hand                            times that for a top of the range model",
products. The major African retailers travel
between       Europe,    Asia    and     the                  explains Vieux, the boss. Business is
redistribution centres of Dubai and Lagos,                     flourishing, the customers come in
where African products and capital are
                                                         droves. In front of the shop, a young man
                                                         is proudly showing off his new iPhone to a
                                                                girl" (Abbiateci and Sabot 2010).

Telephone companies have subcontracted
the sale of prepaid cards to wholesalers
and semi-wholesalers with their own
resale networks, who deploy armies of
youngsters in the streets of the major                   In one neighborhood close to the port of
towns. Of the profit margin of about 10 per              Dakar, which has seen a proliferation in
cent granted by some operators on these                  small retail businesses that depend on
cards, the street seller may get 6 per cent,             mobile telephony, we find a striking
and some operators who had been paying                   illustration of an area where formal and
less than that have been forced to                       informal economies come into contact.
                                                         Ten years ago, some 102 small shops of
     In 2000, according to ILO estimates, the informal   four square metres with display cases in
     sector in French-speaking Africa absorbed 61        front opened here to sell mobile phones of
     per cent of the urban work force and was            all brands as well as accessories.
     probably the source of more than 93 per cent of
     new jobs created during the 1990s.
10                                                       11
     This trade has not, however, been studied.     

                     Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

They have set up right next to a modern              rates for their big customers who pass this
building housing the offices of the mobile           on to their employees. The phones are
phone operator in order to attract the               then entrusted to a relation who has the
latter's customers. The operator filed a             job of selling at different locations at
complaint against the shop owners, but in            different times of day: in the centre at
the end was forced to relocate its own               morning rush hour, at the major entry
sales and subscription activities at the end         points for commuters, bus stations, taxi
of 2006. Our own research has shown 12               ranks, etc., and at the close of the
(interviews with 10 employers and 30                 business day. This practice of using cell
sales employees in 2009) that such shops             phone sales points generates an informal
are generally let for between USD 61.45              activity that is neither authorized nor
and USD 71.69 per month. A fee is also               prohibited, alongside the multitude of other
paid to the local authority (from USD 4.09           such activities. Mobile telephony thus
to USD 6.14 a month); these are therefore            occupies the public space in an anarchic
legal enterprises which, however, operate            way:     streets,    pavements,     squares,
in an informal way. An employer rents the            crossroads, parks and gardens, markets,
shop and employs up to three salespeople             bus stations. It joins the multitude of small
who sell the phones in the street or bring           kiosks selling prepaid cards and leads to
customers back to the shop. Prices vary              even greater congestion of public spaces
according to the model, from USD 51.20               (Gnamien 2002).
for the cheapest to USD 1'230 for the most
sophisticated models. Employers and
sellers are generally linked by kinship, and         In Cameroon, a different system of phone
profits are shared out by the employer in            sales points is used. Walter Gam Nkwi
the light of the day's takings; there is no          describes the operation of the phone sales
written contract and rates are not fixed in          points economy in the case of the
advance.                                             medium-sized city of Bué in Cameroon.
                                                     This is not, as in Côte d'Ivoire, an informal
                                                     activity; it is registered, if not actually
All brands of new and second-hand                    controlled. The key actor is a telephone
phones arriving in containers at the port of         operator. Once someone has found a
Dakar or at airports in the luggage of               suitable location for use as a phone sales
salesmen and others are reprogrammed                 point, he or she then has to negotiate with
by local IT people. These recycled phones            a carpenter to make a cabin or box before
are to be found everywhere.                          registering with the Bué urban authorities.
                                                     Once that has been done, the would-be
                                                     trader contacts an operator directly, or the
Another service activity is illustrated by the       authorized wholesaler acting as the latter's
case of the owners of small street stands            agent. The trader then obtains an
where mobile phones can be rented. They              "electronic voucher distribution" (EVD), a
are becoming ever more common in                     special SIM card, and call credits for use
Abidjan, Libreville and Yaoundé, where               by customers to make calls and transfer
fixed telephone line phone centres are               credit. This distribution system has created
rare, but not found in Dakar. The crude              a highly competitive system of sales points
stand set up on the pavement offers a                in which people fight to remain in business
range of phones which can be used to                 from one day to the next. The sales points
make calls at rates lower than you will pay          themselves are not all of the same type.
with your own phone. This is possible in             Some are more lucrative than others
Abidjan, where two of the three existing             owing to greater capital for investment and
private mobile companies offer preferential          more potential customers. The city has
                                                     about 500 such phone sales points. Of the
     Individual inquiries.                           200 kiosks covered by the survey, some
                                                     150 were run by women, 50 by men, and
                                                     there were differences between the sexes

                Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

in terms of the amount of credit that could        making activities have been created.
be obtained. The activity can be lucrative         Kalsaka, a rural community of 9 000
but the competition is intense and there is        inhabitants in the province of Passoré,
a trend towards creating bigger kiosks with        situated 145 km from Ouagadougou in
people in possession of capital to invest.         northern Burkina Faso, has undergone
One example is that of Elvis, which is able        rapid economic growth as a result of a
to buy up sufficient credit. It makes profits      new gold mine which opened in 2007, with
in three ways: If it buys up a lot of credit, it   some 150 people in full-time employment.
gets a bonus: USD 49.15 in credit means            This has created a demand for phone
a bonus of USD 26.62, part of which is             charging.
passed on to the customers. Call length is
also a factor: for 0 to 59 seconds the rate        Two methods are used – one involving a
is USD 0.20 but a further USD 0.40 even            generator, the other relying on a solar
for an extra second after that. It also            power collector. On market days (every
undertakes credit transfer – the cost of           third day), users flock to the recharging
transferring CFAF 1'000 is CFAF 100, for           point to recharge their mobile phones. To
CFAF 2'000 it will be CFAF 300, and so on          avoid the risk of losing so valuable an item
(Nkwi 2009).                                       as a phone, they wait while charging takes
                                                   place and pay between USD 0.20 and
                                                   USD 0.30. Charging time with a generator
ICTs have now become features of the               is two hours at most, and at least four
urban scene even down to small towns,              hours using a solar unit. That difference is
with kiosks sporting the livery of the             reflected in the turnovers of the three
operator and a plethora of advertising             operators. The operator using a generator
posters, as we see in the Democratic               can charge almost 300 portable phones a
Republic of Congo.                                 day on market days and 125 on a normal
                                                   day, earning USD 790 a month. The other
                                                   two operators by contrast can manage no
Recharging mobile phones is a problem in           more than 50 mobiles a day on average
areas without mains electricity. There             and make up to USD 310 a month (Kabore
again, a multitude of small-scale money-           2010).

 A shop front

                  Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

                                                     In 2000, telephone communications in one
1.4      What impact?
                                                     village in Burkina Faso (Nyamba 2000)
There have been few studies on the                   relied on the nearest community telephone
current use of mobile phones and its                 centre that was then about to be
impact in sub-Saharan Africa 13 . Most of            commissioned – a strange and potentially
the available literature is based on media           disruptive novelty that had to be carefully
or NGO reports and focuses on "M4D"                  located and a manager found. Ten years
(mobile for development) projects and                down the road, telephony has gone mobile
applications. Nevertheless a number of               and individual, and a number of the
exploratory surveys in agriculture and               villagers will certainly have their own
fishing and on small enterprises in the              personal mobile phone. The list of
informal sector have given some indication           changes that are likely among the Sanan
of the far-reaching changes brought about            as a result of the telephone is a long one,
by the mobile phone in Africa.                       according to André Nyamba, and the
                                                     unique characteristics of this population,
                                                     with its strong oral tradition, will change as
                                                     it absorbs new content and changes form.
1.4.1    In rural areas, telephone                   The Sanan will have their own telephone
         communications are leading to               culture but they will have helped to create
         far-reaching changes                        it on the basis of their own culture and
The way of life of millions of people in             traditions.
developing countries depends to a large
extent     on     agriculture    and    small
enterprises. The agricultural sector                 Oral communication is at the heart of the
represents 60 per cent of the work force in          way in which traditional societies
most African economies, some 20 per cent             throughout Africa operate, whether in the
of all exports, and 17 per cent of GDP; it           Soninké region in Mali (Steck and
helps to sustain 70 per cent of the                  Soumare 2009), the Sanan of Burkina
population (ACACIA 2006). A recent World             Faso (Nyamba 2000), or villagers in
Bank report (World Bank 2009) suggests               Uganda (Martin, Abbot 2010); mobile
that the portable telephone is the best              telephony is very much in tune with this
means for creating economic opportunities            prevailing oral tradition, which Benjamin
and obtaining essential services for                 Steck views as being boosted and turned
millions of people, and that in the next few         to advantage by the immediate access
years most new users connecting to a                 these societies now have to global
mobile network will come from rural areas            developments and the wider world. The
in developing countries, who will join the 3         tool is easy to appropriate and use and is
billion existing users in those countries.           becoming a commonplace, but the sudden
                                                     advent of this technology from outside is
                                                     causing profound changes in the
In the rural areas, only 7 per cent of               individual's relationships with others, with
homes possess a telephone and 40 per                 space and time, in the system of moving
cent on average are out of reach of a                people and goods, and in the exchange of
cellular network signal, even if coverage            ideas and information in these regions
has expanded considerably (ITU 2008).                concerned.
Using a mobile phone is in itself an
innovation for everyone, but especially for
populations (most of them in rural areas)            The telephone transforms the effect of the
that have never before made a phone call.            spoken word. It now becomes action and
                                                     transforms the world (Steck). Telephone
     See study by Proparco: « La téléphonie mobile   communication has arrived among the
     dans les pays en développement: quels impacts   Sanan and will change many habits and
     économiques et sociaux? »                       aspects of behaviour. At the level of the
                                                     individual, according to André Nyamba, it

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

will entail a redefinition of the notion of the   An instantaneous link is created with the
individual, and of his or her role and            outside world, with people in the
position in different structures as they are      neighbouring villages and those who have
rebuilt, including the family and the village.    migrated to the city. More frequent
All this will be the result of a kind of new      communication with those who have left
acquired power – the obligation to inform         helps to reinforce territorial identity, which
and to be informed.                               no longer depends for its preservation on
                                                  close proximity but on continuity. The
                                                  umbilical cord remains in place, news can
This is disrupting social hierarchies. The        circulate, but financial pressures on
older generation may find itself losing their     migrants also increase.
control over discourse which, once public,
is now increasingly private. Its power may
be enhanced if controls the means of              The telephone also tends to accelerate
paying for the telephone, but that power          trade and financial flows. Improved access
can also be challenged by younger people          to information means among other things
more adept at exploiting its various              improved knowledge of urban markets and
functions, and by a loss of control over          has a positive impact on production
them and over women, who are now                  systems (Aker 2008, Soumare, Steck
enabled to communicate in a way that              2009).
breaks through social constraints.

                                                  One study on the spread and impact of
Telephones also alter the image of the            mobile phone use in small and medium-
outside world and the relationship with           sized     agricultural     enterprises      was
time and distance. For example, no one            conducted in 2009 in Kumuli district, in
will now embark on the process of                 Uganda, where 42 per cent of agricultural
emigration without obtaining information in       households have a mobile phone (Martin
advance. The advent of the telephone in           and Abbott 2010). Interviews were
these villages gives added impetus to the         conducted with 110 farmers - 56 men and
general process of opening up to the              54 women, chosen on the basis of their
outside. In the view of Benjamin Steck,           different agricultural activities (91) and
distance is a fundamental notion which            non-agricultural activities (19). The results
links us to others and constructs our             showed that more than half of the
identity in relation to space. It is now being    respondents use their mobile phones to
extended to embrace the entire world,             arrange the delivery of supplies, obtain
while time is running ever faster, with           market information and negotiate prices
important consequences. The village will          for their products, make financial
no longer be the microcosm of society with        transactions and respond to emergencies
its established times and rhythms in which        as they arise. A little less than half of those
you take the time to go and say hello to          interviewed consulted experts using their
neighbours every day. The telephone               mobile phones.
means responding rapidly. The time factor
will mean a speeding up in family
relationships       and     lineage      while,   Men have been quicker to adopt mobile
paradoxically, restricting their expression       phones than women, and people with
in terms of time and frequency; "questions        more years of formal education are more
such as "why didn't you call me" will             likely to use the short message service
become both new and current within the            (SMS) than others. About one quarter of
group because there will always be a              the interviewees use both voice calls and
desire to maintain these relationships,           the text message service, with more men
whereas the question would not even have          than women using that service (16 per
been asked before" (Nyamba 2000).                 cent compared to 11 per cent). Men and
                                                  women make equal use of SMS for

                 Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

communicating with their families, but                              ideas and opportunities that go beyond
texting is generally used when the user                             their local social systems. Women are
has little credit left, and the principal                           traditionally less mobile than men as a
means of communication is by voice.                                 result of prevailing social norms, under
                                                                    which they bear responsibility for domestic
The Uganda study highlights another                                 tasks and raising children. Since they are
aspect of mobile phone use in rural areas                           less in contact with outside sources of
– use for collective purposes. Members of                           information, they are less likely to be
agrarian collectives use their mobile                               among early adopters of innovations
phones for a wide range of purposes. The                            (Martin and Abbot 2010).
study noted a number of uses such as
taking photos of agricultural events, using                         However, all the existing studies and
the loudspeaker function to enable a group                          observations suggest that the primary use
of farmers to consult an expert, recording                          of the telephone in rural areas is to gain
announcements and contributions in                                  valuable time in obtaining health care
connection with loan repayments, storage                            services. The phone can be used to report
of data such as hens' laying dates,                                 a case of illness and call an ambulance or
calendars, calculator, and so on. In this                           other means of transport to get the patient
particular area, the spread of mobile                               to a hospital.
phones is such that it has now gone
beyond the initial phase of mainly first-time                       This can all be summarized with reference
adoption, and is now at the stage of rapid                          to the scheme used by Steck and
"take off" in the curve described by                                Soumare based on the "society –
Rogers. According to Rogers (2003),                                 innovation – territory" triangle, which
those who are first to adopt innovations                            places mobile telephony in an overall
are people with highly developed social                             system of interrelationships between the
relations, who travel and are exposed to                            global and the local.

 Mobile telephony in a global system of development and marketing

                        Productive transformation                          Free flow of trade

                   AN INNOVATION

            Stimulating inventiveness
                                                                                     A TERRITORY
                                            MOBILE TELEPHONY                              Reducing distance

                  Development and use of private speech                              Improving access

                                                      A SOCIETY

         Samba SOUMARE, sociologist, Mali Institute of Rural Economics
         Benjamin STECK, geographer, University of Le Havre (IDEES-CIRTAL), France

      Source : Presentation to the Netsuds Symposium 2009, Centre d'études d'Afrique noire (CEAN-CNRS),
      Bordeaux, France, 13-16 October 2009

                  Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

They highlight the fact that the logic of the       activity, in which crews are often made up
system for circulating information overlaps         of members of a single family.
with the territorial system. Distance is
reduced but not eliminated, access to
transport and services is improved and              It has become rare for people working in
production transformed. The telephone               this sector, whether fishers, wholesalers,
stimulates inventiveness, for example in            fish processors, or transporters, not to
solving the persistent problem of                   have a mobile phone, in some cases one
recharging batteries. In Sarakollé villages,        with two chips 15 . Quality and extent of
where there is no mains electricity supply,         network      coverage      are       somewhat
they use moped engines and in doing so              problematic. Officially, the latest beacons
create another source of income. More               at sea allow capture of a signal 30
freedom in trade has benefits for the life of       kilometres from the coast; some fishers,
the community, but the broadening of                however, believe the range is far smaller
horizons it brings about also creates               and inadequate, since the deterioration in
processes of social fragmentation, despite          the fishing grounds forces them to go
a strong historical identity.                       much further and for longer periods. They
                                                    would like to be able to use these tools in
                                                    all conditions. The network problem has
                                                    led to some original solutions. Some
1.4.2    Streamlining the fishing sector            fishers use their mobile phones as a GPS:
         in Senegal                                 since the network is located some 20
The use of mobile telephones in the small-          kilometres from the coast, they can use it
scale fishing sector in Senegal has led to          to estimate their location. It is not possible
even more obvious improvements in                   to give an average budget for mobile
working conditions, work practices and              phones. A chip costs CFAF 2'500
incomes, than in agriculture. With                  (USD 5.11) and the portable phones come
improved management of sea and land                 at all prices. The amount spent on
traffic, meaning fewer and more efficient           communications       varies       from    one
trips, time savings with more rapid                 occupation to another, from one individual
transactions, and improved safety in a              to another, from between CFAF 30'000
hazardous occupation, the telephone                 and 50 000 a month up to CFAF 300'000
makes it possible to streamline the fishing         for some large wholesalers.
sector at all levels.

                                                    The portable phone can be used in a
The fishing sector is one of the most               variety of ways. It offers some way of
important sectors of the Senegalese                 ensuring greater safety in that it can
economy. It accounted for some 600'000              sometimes (when conditions permit) be
jobs in 2006, a total turnover of more than         used to contact fishers at sea. Fishers can
CFAF 225 billion (over USD 460 million14),          report problems, or the fact that they have
total exports valued at CFAF 181 billion            been obliged to put in at different quay to
(USD 370.4 million), or 30 per cent of all          sell their catch or because they have had
export revenues, and 22.5 per cent of total         an accident. The portable phone can also
GDP. Fishing in Senegal has remained a              serve as a makeshift GPS system.
largely traditional small-scale activity
carried on by particular ethnic groups              15
                                                         All of the 27 people interviewed in the
(especially the Lébous, Wolofs and                       exploratory   qualitative inquiry  conducted
Niominkas) and also largely a family                     between April and June 2007 possessed one.
                                                         See Les TIC et le développement de la pêche
     CFAF 1 = USD 0.00204713,                            au Sénégal, rapport de stage 2007, Guillaume
     USD 1 = CFAF 488 489 (rate of exchange as at        Pierné, Netsuds network.
     19 April 2010).

                Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

The system enables fishers to provide           anticipate and speculate. There is no
wholesale dealers with information on the       longer a problem with funds (the inability
size of their catch and the price they are      to pay on landing because the exact price
seeking, and enables the wholesalers to         was not known), or with chains. The
do the same with their contacts further         telephone really does offer people
upstream.      Many    negotiations    are      involved in this occupation a change for
conducted by telephone, and it is quite         the better.
common for a boat to put in at a port with
all the subsequent stages in getting the
catch from the boat to the shop already         Within the sector, the fish processors
planned. Phones can also be used to             make less use of the phone for business.
obtain information on different ports of        One noted that the work involved "taking
disembarkation. Lastly, it allows constant      the fish and turning it into other produce.
contact to be maintained, if the network        My portable is just used for making the
permits, and to agree on logistical issues      calls I need to make and to call my
or meeting points.                              husband, who is a fisherman, when he is
                                                late getting back from his work."

One fisher, when asked if he thought his
portable phone helped him to earn more          ICTs, including the Internet, provide a very
money, gave this answer:                        good means of channelling goods for
                                                export. Some fishers themselves make
                                                use of the Internet. Contacts are made on
                                                the web and then developed by telephone.
"Of course it does. I earn more than I did      The advantages of doing this for the
  before I bought this phone and I have         wholesalers are enormous, and even more
     fewer problems. The wholesalers are        so for the fishers, who are more often than
                                                not sure of being able to sell their catch at
informed of my arrival, so I don't go out of    a good price when they find a foreign
      my way for nothing, and the catch         customer. This advantage has to be seen
      remains fresh. Most people have a         in the overall context. The fishing sector
                                                today is one in which demand far outstrips
portable nowadays. When I have a good           supply, and fishers and wholesalers are
     contact, I pass on the number to my        often able to sell their entire catch and,
                                                most importantly at a good price, to factory
friends, and they do the same for me. The
phone does cost a lot but really, how did
            we manage before?"
                                                ICTs, and especially the mobile telephone,
                                                are bringing about real changes in the
                                                fishing sector. They help to improve safety
One wholesaler gives a good summary of          in a hazardous sector, and are enabling
the situation. For him, the telephone (and      those involved in it to be more efficient in a
GPS) is an excellent tool at every level in     way that to some extent compensates for
the chain. It enables the fisher, whose         the gradual exhaustion of the sea's
interests were often ignored in the past, to    resources16. They also open up the sector
get a good price from the wholesaler for        to more effective competition by allowing
his catch. It also makes it possible to fix     general access to information on prices at
the price before landing, thereby speeding      a given port, the most sought-after
up the sale at a better price. And then
there is the improvement in terms of            16
                                                     Which may in its own way contribute to the
logistics. For the wholesalers, knowing in           exhaustion of stocks but there was no agreement
advance what is to be landed also has                on this among our interlocutors.
many benefits, as it allows them to

              Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

species, and so forth. ICTs provide links      Mobile phones enable the owners of the
between the different players. They open       SMEs covered by the survey to avoid
the fishing sector in Senegal to a wider       spending time and money on a long bus
globalization by enabling those involved in    journey     to    obtain   information   on
the sector to export more easily and to        inexpensive products. Sales can be
break into more lucrative markets.             guaranteed by obtaining information in
                                               advance on the availability of customers.
1.4.3   Benefits for small and medium-         Most of those interviewed indicate that
        sized enterprises in Tanzania          they have managed to cut the costs of
A survey of small and medium-sized             different production operations. The study
enterprises (SMEs) in Tanzania tends to        shows that use of mobile phones in small-
confirm the findings of those on fishing or    scale craft businesses can help to obtain
agriculture in West Africa. The mobile         better      prices,    through     improved
phone improves time and distance               coordination of product transport from the
management and has a positive economic         supplier and by helping to find new market
impact on production and trade both            locations. For example, the wood
upstream and downstream.                       engravers have used their mobile phones
                                               to find markets in the capital Dar es
Simon Rwekiza Melchioly and Oystein            Salaam and have been able to send their
Sæbo in 2008 carried out a qualitative         produce to Bagamoyo in time to coincide
exploratory study on the nature of mobile      with the arrival of groups of tourists. One
phone use in small and medium-sized            of the people interviewed noted that even
enterprises in Morogoro in Tanzania. A         geographical barriers were falling, as the
total of 30 interviews were conducted with     use of mobile phones now enabled him to
owners/directors of 15 such enterprises of     sell his products in remote areas.
different categories (five carpenters, five
metalwork artisans and five wood               The study has also shown that the mobile
engravers).                                    is used for a range of social interactions,
                                               the same telephone being used both for
The mobile phone is used more often than       business and for personal reasons.
other means by all these small-scale
craftsmen as a means of keeping contacts       The cost of calls is the only factor that
and making new ones with suppliers and         limits the use of telephones in SMEs to
customers, and more easily and quickly         extend the market for products, and this is
than was possible before, either by voice      especially the case with SMEs that are
calls or by using SMS. The possibility of      most lacking in capital resources.
obtaining information on the latest prices     According to one interviewee, it is
in different markets makes for greater         expensive to call a client if a deal is not
transparency and more favourable prices.       concluded, so "you are forced to use
Small entrepreneurs are now accustomed         SMS". In this particular milieu in Tanzania,
to comparing prices of different products at   using SMS appears to be a stopgap
different markets in the vicinity before       solution rather than a habit. The
selling, which enables them to obtain good     preference for a particular function
prices and eliminate the local middlemen       depends on a number of factors, including
who in most cases underpay the                 the price of calls and messages, users'
producers to boost their own profits. Better   income, their level of literacy and skill,
knowledge of prices also raises the quality    whether an intermediary is available to
of products in response to market              help, and so on.

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

 Streamlining the fishing industry

To summarize, mobile telephony is               phones guaranteed a certain transparency
regarded as a catalyst for productivity and     in the ballot and helped to prevent or at
for    disseminating     and      obtaining     least minimize election fraud. For the
information in SMEs, minimizing the need        journalists, the portable phone became an
for travel and face to face meetings to         indispensible tool and one well suited to
clinch deals. Mobile phones give small          the requirements of the profession. The
enterprises the capacity to contact new         portable has become a means of ensuring
clients and suppliers rapidly. Mobile           effective coordination between reporters
telecommunications thus promote greater         and their central offices, in particular in live
fairness by enabling disadvantaged              coverage of events. Where it was once
populations to have access to information       necessary to send in a crew and
which would be difficult or impossible to       cumbersome equipment, reporters can
obtain by using only fixed telephone lines,     now use their portable phones to cover
which in most areas will not be up and          events as they happen. This tool can help
running in the near future (Melchioly and       to bring about a revolution in the media
Sæbo 2010).                                     and is already revolutionizing democracy
                                                in some counties (Ndiaye 2008 – Cipaco

1.4.4   The media: At the forefront of
        appropriating mobile telephony          SMS messaging is also widely used by
The crucial importance of mobile                journalists, something which has been
telephony for journalists has been shown        studied     by    Norbert    Ouendji,  a
in a number of countries in connection with     Cameroonian journalist. He notes that
coverage of elections. During the               journalists use SMS to send information
presidential elections in Senegal in 2000,      back to their editors fast 17 . The same
private radio stations were able to cover all   applies to their radio and TV colleagues
the voting stations in the country thanks to    17
                                                     Maurizio Ferraris compares the portable phone
journalists' and correspondents' portable            to a typewriter. See T'es où ? Ontologie du
phones and to report early trends from the           téléphone mobile, translated from the Italian by
evening of the elections onwards. The fact           Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat, Albin Michel, Paris,
that editorial offices were able to                  2006, p. 83.
synchronize with reporters using mobile

                Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

who are encouraging their audiences to            And this is all the more the case since
use text messages to participate in some          SMS were originally intended as a means
interactive broadcasts or in games. One           by which operators could inform users of
prominent example is "Zap presse", a              the state of the network19 (Ouendji 2010).
discussion forum run by Radio Tiémeni
Siantou in Cameroon 18 . This is a forum
which, every Sunday between 10 and 12,            On the other hand, use of the mobile
brings together journalists and a range of        phone for accessing the Internet is still not
individuals to talk about one or more             widespread in Africa 20 even among
topical themes. A portable telephone              journalists, and there is still much to be
number is announced by the presenter in           done in this area to adapt the tool and
order to encourage listeners interested in        procedures to users' needs.
the    debate    to   make     their own
                                                       The history of the SMS suggests that the first
                                                       SMS text message from one mobile phone to
                                                       another was sent in 1993 by Riku Pihkonen, an
Journalists have become well-acquainted                intern with the Finnish telecommunications
with the enigmatic language used in the                company Nokia. As regards the first commercial
world of the SMS, which has become a                   message, it is said to have been sent in 1992 by
genuine social phenomenon. A process                   Neil Papworth, an employee of the Sema Group.
                                                       The SMS in question was sent from his personal
now underway is opening up the possibility             computer to a mobile telephone on Vodafone's
of diversions, bypassing, reinvention or of            GSM network in the United Kingdom (Ouendji
direct participation of users in the design            2010).
of innovations (Breton and Proulx 2002).          20
                                                       Except perhaps in South Africa and the Maghreb
                                                       countries, although there appear to be no
     Radio Tiémeni Siantou,    a   private   FM        studies on this subject.
     broadcaster in Yaoundé.

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

2      Designing the right products and services
The advent of mobile telephony has meant          can adapt it in the right way. (Selanikio21
that for the first time in history the majority   2008).
of the world's population has at its disposal
an interactive communications tool and
can access its services, and this should          There are numerous development projects
have significant effects on economic              and applications now underway, and we
growth. "In several countries, mobile             give here only a brief outline of the
penetration is beginning to transcend the         principal areas concerned. We then give
40 per cent critical mass identified as           some indications as to the likely prospects
necessary to enjoy the network effects that       for development of certain areas such as
realize      economic          growth     and     web mobile, with its potential benefits and
development-producing innovations such            problems.
as mobile banking and employment or
agricultural information services" (Gildwal

Until now, the device available to most           An overview of some current
people with low incomes has been a                projects and applications
simple telephone programmed for voice
and SMS and with only limited Internet
capability, and even though smart phones
are increasingly on sale, they are used in        2.1       Financial services
a way well below their potential capacity.                  achieving real success
                                                  According to one survey by Research ICT
                                                  Africa in 2007−08, almost 30 per cent of
A cursory review of projects that have            people interviewed in 17 countries in sub-
been set up so far suggests that most are         Saharan Africa borrow money from their
based on the use of SMS as a means of             families and friends (
disseminating information on health
issues,    agriculture   and    e-banking.
However, there is considerable potential          From Kenya to South Africa, from Uganda
for greater use of web–based mobile               to West Africa, operators and banks have
applications and this is now starting to be       seen the incentive to offer financial
explored in Africa, given the explosive           services to largely "unbanked" clients.
growth since 2008 in the number of people         While payment by portable phone is
using their mobile connection to access           making little headway in Europe, Africa
the Internet.                                     has taken a lead with this real innovation
                                                  in financial services via the mobile phone.

It is in the developing countries that the
most interesting innovations might occur.
Could the portable phone become the
computer for everyone in the near future?
It might become communications tool,              21
                                                       Joel Selanikio is a physician and co-founder of
Internet portal, school textbook, family     , a startup company that creates
photo album, debit and credit card, radio,             open-source software for public health and
                                                       international development.
and a number of other things, if someone

                   Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

M-Pesa, the first fund transfer service                  commercial systems used vary widely.
using mobile phones in Africa, was                       “The standard mobile phones widely
launched in 2007 in Kenya by Safaricom                   available in Africa today allow the use of
and had reached 6.5 million customers by                 SMS, Interactive Voice Response (IVR),
May 2009, or 13 per cent of the population               Unstructured Supplementary Services
within a period of less than two years                   Data (USSD), and new generation SIM
(Wikipedia, M-Pesa). Money can be                        cards that can be personalized by the
transferred by SMS from any portable                     operator. In South Africa, Wizzit, the First
phone fitted with a compatible SIM card.                 National Bank (FNB) and Amalgamated
The sender registers free of charge with                 Banks of South Africa (ABSA) use SMS,
an official agent on presentation of an                  IVR and USSD technology. These are
identity card. He or she then buys call time             independent open systems run by the
which is transferred to the portable phone               mobile network operator. M-Pesa in Kenya
account of the beneficiary, who can then                 and MTN Banking in South Africa make
go to another agent to cash in the credit.               use of personalized SIM cards. Their fund
Most transactions do not exceed 2'000                    transfer systems are accessible only to
Kenyan shillings (USD 25.80). The M-                     members.
Pesa system has been a success because
it is based on traditional payment
practices,     extensive   mobile    phone               Also in South Africa, NedBank, the FNB
networks, and a large network of                         and the ABSA use more sophisticated
distributors who work with established                   technologies including the Wireless
agents, each of whom is given basic                      Application Protocol (WAP) and secure
training. Three months after the launch,                 web servers (https). These systems are
the service had 400 agents – compared to                 accessible only to people with compatible
the 450 bank branches and 600 cash                       phones. The Near Sound Data Transfers
dispensing machines in Kenya. In 2009,                   (NSDT) system developed by Tagattitude,
the number of M-Pesa agents passed the                   which uses a phone's audio channel to
3'400 mark. The system is simple and fast,               transmit an encrypted code for making
a transfer taking no more than                           payments, has the advantage of being
30 seconds22.                                            compatible with all mobiles on the market.
                                                         It is being tested in South Africa, the
                                                         Democratic Republic of Congo, and
The success of M-Pesa is due to its ability              Zambia. It will shortly be launched in
to adapt to local conditions and                         Ghana, Mali and Nigeria.

The M-Pesa model has been imitated in
Africa, according to African Economic
Outlook 23 , but the technologies and
     See                                                   social and political developments in African          countries.
23                                                         See, developed from
     the online annual African Economic Outlook
     report.          Like          the        report, draws together the
     expertise of the African Development Bank, the
     OECD Centre for Development and the UN
     Economic Commission for Africa, as well as that
     of a network of African think tanks and research
     centres. Its broad coverage of the continent and
     rigorous analytical methods make it an essential
     tool for anyone wishing to understand economic,

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

African commercial models are opening up        "Maroc Telecom launches Mobi Cash",
new ways for payments and banking.              published 7 January 2010 in High-Tech).
Where services have the support of the
banks, they adhere to the banking
regulations in force. In South Africa, Wizzit adds that:
is managed by the Bank of Athens and            "There is a regulatory gap with banking
can be used by any mobile telephone             services provided by mobile phone
operator. This is the case also with the        operators. While mobile phone operators
joint enterprise MTN Banking in South           are accountable to telecommunications
Africa, which grew out of an agreement          authorities, the scope of intervention of
between the operator MTN and Standard           financial regulation is often undefined.
Bank”, and the partnership agreement            Central banks responsible for monetary
signed in January 2010 in Morocco               and fiscal policy in Africa have not started
between Maroc Telecom and the country's         looking at e-payments, e-banking and
two leading banks.                              other services. There is presently no
                                                mention of electronic transactions and e-
                                                currency in regulatory frameworks. M-
Transaction costs are between 1 and 3 per       Pesa in Kenya belongs to the
cent of the sum being transferred, as           telecommunications operator Safaricom
opposed to double-digit rates for traditional   and is not supported by any bank. M-Pesa
procedures. M-banking should increase           was only able to start after lengthy
the number of people with bank accounts         discussions with local authorities. M-Pesa
in Morocco. Since 6 January 2010, it has        argued that it was transferring money, not
made it possible to effect financial            taking deposits and so remains out of the
transactions in Morocco using a mobile          scope of financial regulation.
phone. Given the name "Mobi Cash", this
first money transfer and payment service
using mobile phones is governed by a            However, the difference between a
tripartite agreement signed by Abdeslam         payment and a deposit is merely defined
Ahizoune, Chairman of the Maroc                 by the time the money remains in the
Telecom Board of Directors, Mohamed El          system.          Frontiers        between
Kettani, President of the Attijariwafa Bank     telecommunications and financial services
group, and Mohamed Benchaaboun,                 are easily blurred. And as African banks
President of the Banque Populaire group.        rely heavily on revenues from transaction
The agreement sets out the conditions for       fees, M-Pesa represents a strong
having bank accounts, electronic money          competitor and has made a strong impact
guarantees, Mobi Cash infrastructures and       in its two years of operation. However,
platforms, as well as marketing and             when the company announced in
customer relations. Mobi Cash enables           December 2008 that it would expand into
customers of the principal telephone            initiating and receiving international
operator in Morocco to use their mobile         remittances from the UK through an
phones to make deposits to their Mobi           arrangement with Western Union, Kenya's
Cash accounts at all Maroc Telecom              Ministry of Finance announced plans to
offices and approved distributors and to        audit M-Pesa arguing there was a risk to
withdraw cash and transfer money                customers. It appears that much of the
anywhere in Morocco. Money transfers            pressure for the audit originated from the
abroad should follow in the near future,        48 commercial banks in Kenya. Last year
according to those behind the project.          Kenya received approximately USD
Apart from technical aspects, the project       1.6 billion in international remittances
reflects the overall convergence in the         which is around 5 per cent of GDP. At an
vision of the three partners, which             estimated amount of USD 283 billion in
emphasizes the need to reduce financial         2008 according to the World Bank, global
transaction costs. (6 January 2010, –           remittances attract much interest. Inward
                                                remittances are larger than ODA flows

              Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

(excluding debt) in countries such as           enabling them to obtain a favourable credit
Botswana, Ghana and Kenya, six times            rating.
larger in Nigeria and three times in South
Africa in 2007. Orange, Zain and MTN are
already exploring the possibility of            Recent entrants planning to expand or
launching this service.                         begin providing similar services are
                                                CelPay in Democratic Republic of Congo
                                                and Zambia, Orascom in Algeria, Tunisia,
                                                Egypt and Zimbabwe, Monitise in Uganda,
Mobile-payments and banking are quick           Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo,
and easy to use. This could enable rapid        Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and
take up by unbanked population.                 Zambia, Globacom in Nigeria, Zain in
According to the 2007/2008 Research ICT         Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Orange in
Africa survey the main reason people do         Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya and Egypt and
not have a bank account is because they         the Cooperative Bank of Kenya in Kenya.
do not have enough regular income. Zero         With only 19.8 per cent of individuals
transaction costs were highlighted by           keeping their money in a bank account in
many respondents as a reason for sending        a sample of 17 African countries, and
air-time instead of cash. M-Pesa for            more than 30 per cent worried about being
example, is particularly attractive for small   robbed or losing the cash, the potential for
transactions. In order to send KSH 1 000,       developing mobile-banking seems high24."
Western Union would charge a fee of KSH
500 while M-Pesa would ask KSH 30 if the
money is sent to M-Pesa users and KSH      
75 if it is sent to non users. The                   depth/innovation-and-ict-in-africa/pro-
                                                     development-innovative-applications/ (consulted
technology could eventually be used to               19 April 2010).
collect the transaction history of customers,

 Solar power phone box in Burkina Faso

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

                                                 "Esoko Networks (known previously as
2.2    Online system of
                                                 TradeNet) was started in 2004 by the
       information for agriculture               Ghanaian software company BusyLab.
       struggling to become                      Esoko has a website where more than
       established                               800'000 prices from hundreds of markets
                                                 are quoted, with a focus on Sub-Saharan
                                                 Africa. Because only a small percentage of
                                                 users are active on the Internet, Esoko
Inexpensive information systems for
                                                 has relied on an SMS platform. Users can
agriculture and fishing based on the use of
                                                 sign up to receive weekly SMS alerts on
mobile telephones started to make their
                                                 commodities for a fee and the cost of the
appearance in Africa some ten years ago.
                                                 SMS. Users can also upload offers to buy
                                                 and sell products via mobile phone and
                                                 make     precise   price    requests   on
In West Africa, the first of these initiatives
                                                 commodities in a country receiving the
was Xam Marsé ("Know your Market" in
                                                 information by SMS.
Wolof), which was launched in Senegal by
the Manobi Development Foundation after
two years of research. Since 2002, it has
been supplying farmers with information
                                                 There are two major initiatives in East
on market prices in return for a low-cost
                                                 Africa. In Kenya, SMS Sokini provides
subscription. It uses all the modes of
                                                 agricultural information through SMS text
communication available on a mobile
                                                 messages for a fee. The project is run by a
telephone – SMS, multimedia messages
                                                 partnership      between     the    Kenyan
(MMS) incorporating images, video clips
                                                 Agricultural     Commodities     Exchange
and sound, and the Wireless Application
                                                 (KACE) and mobile operator Safaricom.
Protocol (WAP) which allows Internet
                                                 Information kiosks are located near where
access from a mobile phone.
                                                 agricultural commodity buyers and sellers
                                                 meet, providing low cost access to
                                                 farmers. KACE workers collect the
"In Niayes, a farmer checks market prices
                                                 information from the kiosks and send it to
in real time on his/her mobile phone to
                                                 farmers, buyers and exporters on text
negotiate with the wholesaler and obtain
                                                 messages. In 2005, in Uganda, the
the best prices. In Tambacounda,
                                                 Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
Senegal, groups of Sterculia gum growers
                                                 started to send SMS texts with market
use their mobile phone to inform their
                                                 prices to 400 rural farmers with financial
contract buyers about their inventory. In
                                                 support from the Technical Centre for
Sikasso, Mali, mango growers record
                                                 Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-
information on every step of the process to
                                                 EU (CTA). Workers collect information
trace their products for export markets in
                                                 from markets and data is posted on the
compliance with Global Gap requirements.
                                                 Busoga Rural Open Source Development
These examples show how Manobi uses
                                                 Initiative (BROSDI) website. Other workers
mobile phone technology to help small
                                                 translate the information to Luo, a local
scale farmers play a more active role in
                                                 language, and send it to farmers by SMS.
the product value chain. An innovative
                                                 Farmers can request more information by
business model developed by Manobi
                                                 replying to the SMS. WOUGNET is
supports the delivery of the services while
                                                 providing free mobile phones and free
creating a sustainable ecosystem for the
                                                 access to this service.
farmers and all the value chain operators."
(Daniel Annerose, President of Manobi,
                                                 The SMS messages enable farmers to
                                                 access accurate information at an
                                                 affordable price, typically 1/7th of the cost

                   Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

of a call and up to an estimated 1/10th of         bargaining skills, post-harvest processing
the travel cost in some cases. The                 and     networking       between     peers
information has increased the bargaining           (,       Donner
power of farmers, who in the past had little       2010).
alternative but to sell their goods to the
wholesalers located nearest to them.

There are several obstacles to the wider
use of e-agriculture technology however.           2.3    Humanitarian work and
Even though 39.1 per cent of the African                  health care
population owned a mobile phone in 2008,
many unprofitable rural areas are not
covered by mobile services. E-agriculture          A key element in development is the
cannot anyway answer all of farmers'               improvement of access for populations to
problems such as poor transport. The               relevant information on health issues and
information systems are difficult to sustain.      living conditions.
In Ghana, TradeNet has had to hire and
train agents to collect information, which
anyway can be easily pirated. Manobi               Support structures are benefiting from new
subsidizes the collection of market data.          ways of communicating with all the
Esoko has been subsidizing SMS alerts              partners involved. News modes of
for individuals, but most people prepay for        communication,         networking         and
their text messages, so it is now only             exchanging information provided by the
subsidizing SMS alerts for individuals in          mobile phone – such as SMS updates on
Ghana. The challenge is to provide                 action campaigns and activities – are
information that farmers feel is worth             enabling     communities        to    receive
paying for. Farmers and traders are not            information but also to provide information,
using radio-based MIS in Sub-Saharan               by allowing it to be collected in a variety of
Africa because the information does not            ways including text messages, images,
meet their needs so the providers will have        photos or even video clips.
to tailor their services more to the needs of
                                                   In the field of health care, one study
                                                   conducted by Vital Wave Consulting for
                                                   Vodafone (Vital Wave consulting 2009)
There is also without any doubt a need for         takes stock of different projects in this area
better training for farmers and to integrate       of health-related uses of mobile telephony
them more effectively in the data reception        ("m-health").
system in order to spread the use of SMS
and Internet. In Cambodia, a Canadian
project Camip (Canada Agricultural Market          This area is in the early stages of
Information Project) is developing an SMS          development, and most of the projects are
system that enables farmers to know                pilot projects. However, given the rapid
prices for their produce but unlike the            pace of adoption of wireless technologies
African systems, they receive training from        and their ever-increasing geographical
farmer marketing schools in using the              spread, m-health has great potential for
system and in way of optimizing their              development and could lead to a
activity    by     improving     packaging,        considerable improvement in public health.
                                                   Such improvements might be achieved at
     AfricanEconomicOutlook, op cit.               two levels: greater efficiency in prescribing
                                                   health care measures and in the actual
                                                   services provided.

                   Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

For example, a system of data collection                    The survey report cites examples of
using mobile phones 26 is being used to                     applications for each of these areas, and
collect information on mothers' nursing                     suggests that current efforts need to be
habits      and     child     development                   improved, made sustainable, and their
measurement in rural areas of eastern                       impacts on health measured. The four key
Uganda and has produced better results                      elements for the success of m-Health
than a similar paper information gathering                  programmes are as follows:
exercise. Data input errors have been
considerably reduced, cost-effectiveness
improved, and the users have willingly                            – Matching m-health applications to
accepted the new technology.                                        health needs. The technological
                                                                    solution has to be designed
                                                                    through a user-centred approach,
                                                                    and must keep in mind health care
Another example of m-health is the                                  objectives and the nature of the
practice of using SMS alerts to remind                              user's      environment.       When
patients to take their medication. Health                           designing new solutions, technical
care personnel have noted that 40 per                               experts should consult the end
cent of hospital readmissions for heart                             user and discuss the ways in which
attacks are due to the failure of patients to                       they are likely to use the mobile in
take their medication correctly. Reducing                           their everyday work;
hospital admissions can generate income                           – Using a simple, tried and tested
for health care services. Such cases show                           technology;
how improved results in treatment and                             – Creating      more      points    of
greater efficiency actually go hand in                              intersection between cyberhealth
hand.                                                               and m-health;
                                                                  – Providing guidance and tools to
                                                                    maximize the impact of action
                                                                    taken and ensure proper evaluation
Access to wireless technology is also                               of results (Vital Wave consulting
stimulating areas such as the treatment                             2009)27.
and prevention of HIV/AIDS, improved
maternity care, follow-up on outbreaks of
transmissible diseases, and efforts to
ensure that children get preventive care
and vaccinations. That technology in turn                        United Nations Foundation and Vodafone
is enabling remote connectivity with health                      Foundation Technology Partnership is a leading
                                                                 public-private alliance using strategic technology
care systems and experts. The key                                programmes        to     strengthen    the   UN's
applications are in the following areas:                         humanitarian efforts worldwide. The Partnership
                                                                 has three core commitments: (1) to support the
                                                                 use       of       rapid      response      mobile
                                                                 telecommunications to aid disaster relief; (2) to
      – education and awareness raising;                         develop health data systems that improve
      – access to health data and files;                         access to health data thereby helping to combat
      – monitoring and conformity of                             disease; and (3) to promote research and
        medication;                                              innovative initiatives using technology as an
      – emergency response;                                      agent and tool for international development.
                                                                 Further information can be found at:
      – health administration systems;                  
      – analyses,      diagnostics       and

     EpiHandy, developed by         Bergen   University's
     International Health Centre.

              Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Provision of information on health issues      application for international development
via mobile phones ranges from a question       and health. It is based on a free mobile
and answer service on water and water          web platform that can be installed and
purification, set up by Netwas in Uganda,      started up within an hour. No meeting or
to a breast cancer information service run     payment is required; all that is needed is
by Mobile4Good in Kenya, Tanzania and          to connect and start receiving data
Cameroon, or awareness-raising activities      (Selanikio 2010)28.
like "la liberté du sida", a game aimed at
reinforcing the message about protected
sex. In Zimbabwe, an interactive voice         One well-known example is the Pésinet
answering system has been set up by            programme in Mali, which uses mobile
Kubatana, a civil society organization that    technologies to record weights, prevent
aims to provide teenagers with information     illness and reduce mortality among small
on sexual matters from a web site entitled     children in low-income families.
"Auntie Stella".

                                               A review of the abundant literature on the
There are also numerous examples of            issue of development projects based on
applications and systems that have been        mobile telephony suggests that until now,
developed to improve the efficiency and        with rare exceptions, services that aim to
competence of public health authorities,       improve conditions of life in Africa have yet
including small-scale monitoring projects,     to achieve their full potential. Many are
data      collection   programmes       or     pilot programmes or "niche" services,
multifunctional systems.                       which have nevertheless been reviewed
                                               and form a body of case studies which can
                                               serve as a basis for future development29.
A range of systems have been put in place
enabling practitioners to obtain information
of relevance to them on demand or by
automatic downloading. For example,
doctors in Uganda can obtain medical
texts via their personal digital assistants
(PDA) by downloading a weekly bulletin              See and “10 Things You Might
with the Satellife or Maliwi programmes,            Want to Know Before Building for Mobile”.
and health workers can obtain information           See: annex 2 of H. Beardon: How mobile
on the effect of drugs via an SMS platform          technologies can enhance Plan and partners
                                                    work in Africa, Guide prepared for Plan, January
called Frontline. In Nairobi, students have         2009 Plan Finland Pasilanraitio 5, 2nd floor,
developed a blood bank using SMS and a              00240 Helsinki, which presents a selection of
system that enables the district hospital to        projects                 and              contracts,
monitor and coordinate blood donations.   
Other applications are used to collect data         _for_Development_-_Plan_2009.pdf) – “Mobiles
                                                    in-a-box“,                 case              study,
on the effectiveness of insecticide-treated         (
mosquito nets in Uganda with Netmark, or            m/4) , and especially the very important digest of
to assist rural midwives in northern                the W3C group: – “Stories From Mobile Web For
Uganda, using an information and                    Social            Development“             (MW4D)
reference      system      via      Rescuer.
EpiSurveyor is the first "web 2.0"

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Monitoring child health – Pésinet in Mali

The Pésinet project in Mali deploys mobile technology to prevent infant sickness and
mortality among low-income families. Although basic, this system has been able to deliver
real improvements in infant mortality indicators. Infant mortality indicators during a previous
pilot project in Senegal fell from 123 per 1 000 to 5.3 per 1 000. See www.alcatel- .

Members of the community are trained to be 'Agents de Pesée' (ADPs) to implement the
project at community level and are provided with Java-enabled mobile phones. Every
month, ADPs, working with local midwives, identify and register low-income families with
children under five, and pass their names to the project coordinator (1). Each child is
weighed and monitored at home once a week, babies under one year twice a week, and
these data, along with other relevant symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhoea, are
transferred by the phone via GPRS to the project database . The database then alerts the
project paediatrician to children who show significant weight loss or other risk factors . The
doctor can examine the risk curves and send text messages to the ADP with the names of
those children who need to be examined in person . The ADP can then inform the family
and advise them to bring the child to the Pésinet centre for examination .

Source : Mobiles for development – How mobile technologies can enhance Plan and partners work in Africa
Guide prepared for Plan by Hannah Beardon, January 2009

                  Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

3         Summary of results and future prospects
The near-universal use of mobile                       Consequently, it may be said that a
telephony in Africa, its accessibility, ease           process of democratization of the
of use and above all the fact that it has              telephone is under way, although profound
been      appropriated    by   the      local          inequalities    persist  among      African
populations, presents a challenge to the               countries (a penetration rate ranging from
traditional ways of analysing the use of               96 telephones per 100 inhabitants in
ICTs for development.                                  Gabon to only 3.7 in Ethiopia (ITU-D
                                                       2009)), between towns and rural areas,
                                                       and among different social groups. For
Very low-income populations make the                   those who own mobile phones, however,
purchase of a mobile phone a priority, in              they have become indispensible. They say
the belief that it has potential benefits for          something about an individual's identity,
them. Such populations, which are the                  can be used as a means of cementing
intended beneficiaries of development                  social and family relationships and as a
projects, invest of themselves not only in             working tool, and have become a part of
order to acquire a phone but also by                   local cultures.
innovating and creating new functions and
applications of use to them. There is thus
a "bottom up" development of different                 But how will the use of mobile telephony
uses that is quite different from the classic          evolve in the coming years? Will
"top down" flow of information like that of            broadband mobile access and Internet
radio or television, and more like that of             develop in the same way as has been the
the Internet, which develops along more                case with basic telephone use?
organic lines like a sponge (Combes
                                                       In an attempt to clarify this question, we
                                                       will now consider the lessons that might be
Given this enthusiasm for the mobile,                  drawn from current practices and
many of the players, both public and                   emerging trends in technology and in
private, as well as NGOs, have mobilized               society.
to provide services for this low-income
majority. At the forefront are the operators
and manufacturers, who have understood
how to change the economic model, adapt
their phones and applications and open up
access to voice and messaging services
for more people at affordable prices. The
State is another major player. Most African
States have developed regulation policies
that have supported or stimulated this
trend towards universal access to ICTs,                  outset on the fixed telephone service and “must
especially the telephone 30 (Chéneau-                    evolve in line with technical progress, market
                                                         development       and     changes     in   user
Loquay 2009-2, Dahmani A. et al. 2007).                  requirements”, Council Resolution of 7 February
                                                         1994 on universal service principles in the
     As    regards   the    available   supply    of     telecommunications sector. The two areas
     telecommunications     equipment,     universal     priority areas are Internet access and mobile
     access and service are fundamental principles       phone communications (Chéneau-Loquay 2009-
     enshrined in public policy texts in Africa and      2).
     elsewhere. Universal service must focus at the

                  Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

                                                  unable to read or write but are relatively
3.1       Advantages and drawbacks                costly and still at an early stage of
          of information systems                  development.
          based on short message
          services (SMS)                          In terms of fixed costs, phones offering
                                                  only voice calls and SMS are cheaper than
In terms of technology, the above                 those that allow data transfer but the
overview shows that in Africa, mobile             variable costs are higher: to send a simple
applications for development focus                voice message the cost will be around
generally on the provision of SMS                 USD 0.20 a minute or half that for an
services.                                         SMS. The same message sent via a
                                                  GPRS link, from a WAP page or using a
                                                  dedicated application would cost 1 cent or
From the user's point of view, this               less (Donner 2009). Text messages thus
predominance      reflects  the     most          remain a rather expensive and limited tool
widespread level of capacity of phones            for transmitting information. To reduce
available to users. All SMS services are          transmission costs, the "developers" use
accessible from any basic phone and               multi-session SMS systems to send a wide
available to users who have only                  range of complex data. One advantage of
prepayment systems.                               SMS platforms is that messages are sent
                                                  using an SIM card and a local mobile
                                                  phone. There are also Internet-based
From the point of view of senders of              services for sending grouped messages
information, SMS is the technology most           such as Clickatel 33 and BulkSMS 34 , but
easily accessible for any individual or           they are unsuitable for organizations
company wishing to obtain information via         working in regions with unreliable
mobile phones. Setting up an SMS                  telecommunications       infrastructure  or
platform is quick, inexpensive and                without an Internet connection. Services of
relatively easy. This makes it an ideal tool      this type also require a credit card35.
for organizations with limited resources,
small budgets and only rudimentary IT
expertise. There are a number of free and
inexpensive       platforms    such       as
FrontlineSMS31 and Episurveyor32.
                                                  3.2       Towards the mobile web for
Nevertheless a number of economic and
cultural constraints arise from that very
availability and ease of use.                     All the actors in the sector are in
                                                  agreement that the next stage in the
                                                  expansion of mobile telephony on the
The 160 SMS characters are limited when           African continent will be the Internet
it comes to more complex and                      market, but they do not all agree on the
sophisticated uses. Text is a hindrance for       way this will come about.
illiterate users, who may be unable to
make full use of the system. Solutions
involving the use of voice messages to            33
deliver information can be used by those          34
31                35

              Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Mobile telephone operators need to             uncertain returns, setting the stage for the
construct the broadband networks and
associated protocols that will allow the           next phase of mobile market expansion
web's potential to be fully exploited.                         on the continent."
According to Guy Zibi, Director of                                 (Zibi 2009)
AfricaNext, a company that specializes in
telecommunications market analysis in
Africa, the mobile telephony industry will
now be trying to do for the Internet market   For the W3C collaborative consortium of
what it has already done for voice            developers working to develop the web,
telephony:                                    and working with mobile phone industry
                                              leaders to improve access and content
                                              production for mobile users, there is no
                                              problem of access or interoperability if the
  "The obstacles are numerous; limited        operator provides a data service with full
   infrastructure in key portions of the      web access36.
Internet network value chain; high cost of
bandwidth and customer equipment, low
                                                    W3C has created the “Mobile Web Initiative” the
  literacy levels and small addressable             aim of which is “to make browsing the Web from
 markets. And yet the opportunity carries           mobile devices a reality”, according to Tim
                                                    Berners-Lee, Director of W3C and inventor of
 this perennially unique African blend of           the Web.
   highly promising potential and often

 A phone repairer

                  Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Participants attending a symposium on the            Internet, in a way that is convergent with
potential of mobile telephony, held in               experimental approaches using smart
Maputo in April 200937, expressed the view           phones and "netbooks". As costs will fall,
that navigating the web has now become a             phones will increasingly be able to receive
viable option for providing richer content           data. Creators of development services or
and       developing       more      complex         applications will need to make calculations
applications.     Mobile       phone     web         based on their specific data transmission
technologies offer a major opportunity for           requirements, the demographics of their
developing a large number of applications            users and the pricing systems of the
on a large scale and at low cost, by                 telecommunications companies in their
authorizing the establishment of new                 target countries, in order to know whether
services in Africa. A stable and effective           they have reached the point at which the
GPRS already provides a means of                     transition to GPRS and the next
providing content for the public. Richer             generations can begin.
applications using images and graphics
such as icons also offer services of
increased added value, and easier access
for low-income population groups. The                3.3    What kind of social
same participants, however, regretted the                   change?
lack of collaboration, cooperation, and
sharing among those working in this area
(NGOs, grass-roots organizations, various            The     technologies     will  be   further
institutions, and so on), all of which               developed, but how will they become an
creates the impression of a large number             integral part of the everyday lives of
of systems and platforms competing to                populations and what will their impact be?
solve the same problems. One reason for              There are still uncertainties here. The
this is the lack of visibility and knowledge         available literature on the use and impact
of what is being done by others.                     of mobile telephony for "development"
                                                     purposes does not suggest any overriding
                                                     and consistent trend as regards social and
They also considered that challenges                 economic change.
associated with upscaling and the
replicability and sustainability of projects
already under way or planned are crucial,            Donner, however, identifies a new
and called for the participation of all the          convergence among different technical
players (governments, enterprises, NGOs              and organizational models (Donner 2008),
and local communities). That in their view           which reflects the priorities of funding
is the only way of providing services and            bodies, local NGOs and government
information for the remaining 1 billion              representatives, and suggests some
potential users (Boyera 2009).                       market opportunities. It should be recalled
                                                     that in almost all the cases studied, the
                                                     service provided does not involve only the
The development landscape of these                   user's mobile phone; beyond what is
technologies and their uses will thus                actually visible on the user's small screen
continue to evolve rapidly, and in four or           there is a computer, a server, and an
five years there is likely to be a range of          entire organizational "ecosystem". In
different options, from SMS to WAP and               agriculture, small and medium-sized
including GPRS applications, up to full              enterprises and medicine, information
                                                     systems are generally set up and
     “Workshop Executive Summary”, April 1-2 2009,   maintained at key points of influence by
     Maputo, Mozambique, Stéphane Boyera,            large institutions such as Kenya's National
     George Sadowsky, Workshop Chairs, W3C,          Farmers Information Service (NAFIS), the
     Mobile Web Initiative.                          Kenyan         Agricultural    Commodities
                                                     Exchange Program (KACE), and, in

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, the               improved access to telecommunications
Livestock Information Network Knowledge         (Qiang 2009).
System      (LINKS),      which     provides
information on prices and volumes of
livestock for sale in different markets, as     Despite these advantages, there are,
well as meteorological data. Such               nevertheless, limits to what mobile
centralized    systems      are    used    to   technology can do.
disseminate information on prices in a
number of markets for a variety of
products and producers and allow sharing        There is a "mobile gap" due to problems of
of costs and time spent on searching for        access to electricity supply, network
information, which would otherwise have         coverage, income inequalities, and
to be borne by individual farmers. In           differences in the functional features of
Donner's view, this increasing institutional    models designed for an affluent minority.
involvement could be one of the most            So although mobiles are an excellent tool
important     impacts     of    these   new     for stimulating the development of
information systems. The institutions           communities, they also reflect inequalities
concerned are thereby brought into close        of opportunity.
contact with the smallest enterprises,
which are often at the margins of the
formal economy. If they can help more           An analysis of current projects shows that
farmers and small entrepreneurs to              technology on its own cannot solve social
become more productive by reducing              problems. It is applied in order to improve
information costs, inculcating new skills, or   relations and development processes, and
advising consumers, this will be beneficial     in doing so it creates competitive
for families whose livelihoods depend on        advantages that may marginalize those
enterprise.                                     who have no access to it. In the end, the
                                                mobile technologies that are adopted will
                                                have to be determined by the overall
This does not, however, imply the birth of      direction and quality of the underlying
a new paradigm of economic organization.        development process. Isolation and
Existing literature suggests that mobile        marginalization of populations are social
phone use makes enterprises more                problems which technology alone cannot
productive and markets bigger and more          solve. Mobile phones are just tools and
efficient, not that the market structures are   can only be a helpful aid in social
fundamentally transformed.                      organization, not a central pillar of it.

Still focusing on economic aspects, a very      As regards sustainable development and
recent study funded by the World Bank           extension of the technology, most
and based on data from 120 countries has        innovations and applications in mobile
shown       that   all     information    and   telephony, as in any other areas38, have to
communication         technologies      (ICT)   reach a certain "critical mass" of users
stimulate growth in developing countries        before having a real impact and becoming
more than in the developed countries. This      sustainable. This requires time and a
is due to the role of ICTs in making            change in scale. The basic ingredients for
markets       more      efficient,   reducing   sustainability are: a sufficient number of
transaction      costs,      and    improving   people being informed of the application in
productivity through better management –        question, able to access it, and finding it
in both the public and private sectors.
These problems are more acute in the                 With regard to public Internet access projects,
developing economies, which would                    see Chéneau-Loquay 2009, the ADEN Internet
                                                     access project financed by France.
explain the greater impact there of

               Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

sufficiently useful to tell others about it. If   network and phone providers, is one
users find a service useful, and there are        partner but not all information and
enough of them to make it function, the           communication      services    can      be
service will be sustainable.                      commercialized, and the role of NGOs in
                                                  ensuring that the market does not overlook
                                                  the needs of the poorest and most
Establishing links with the objectives and        marginalized population groups is very
programmes of local and national                  important.
governments will enhance the durability
and scope of these new services. Political
will is a key factor in project success.          The impact of mobile technology and its
Local organizations and actors are also           uses must be evaluated from the dual
key partners when it comes to ensuring            perspective of the social goals that are
that a given technology has local support.        being sought and the effectiveness of the
The mobile phone market, which includes           technology itself.

                   Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

It took 15 years for one quarter of                        hand, the assumption that smart phones
humanity to have a mobile telephone                        and services will be within reach of most
(achieved in 2003), and only seven years                   individual users in Africa is debatable. It is
for 3.8 billion people, half the world's                   true that the explosion in mobile telephony
population, to have one39. How long will it                has surprised everyone, not least the
be before most of humanity surfs the                       operators, who did not expect it because
Internet to find solutions to everyday                     of the widespread poverty. But can this be
problems? Almost all future new entrants                   repeated? If the prices of smart devices
to the market live in developing countries.                fall, they will sell easily because of their
The future, in terms of uses, innovations,                 multi-functionality (music, radio, recording,
technologies and markets for mobile                        personal agenda, even pocket lamp), but
telephony, is taking shape in the poor                     Internet use via mobile phones poses
countries. Some 7 million Nigerians surf                   some more complex problems than voice
the Web using their portable phones.                       or SMS: cost, obviously, but also
High-speed mobile telephony has been                       questions relating to ergonomic aspects
described by the ITU as the solution to the                and general utility. Internet use is currently
problem of inadequate infrastructure40 but                 developing relatively slowly in Africa, and
will these services become widespread if                   concerns mainly younger people who
they require new investment? On the other                  frequent Internet cafés essentially for
                                                           amusement (Chéneau-Loquay 2009). The
     The mobile industry now has 4.6 billion active        creation and maintenance of public
     subscriptions. But not all subscriptions are          Internet access points is still essential for
     unique users. The total number of unique users
     is 3.4 billion people, i.e. exactly half of the       other uses (office work, Internet search
     planet. So for contrast - on the planet there are     applications, emails with attachments,
     1.2 billion PCs of any kinds including netbooks;      data downloading, and so on).
     1.6 billion TV sets, 1.7 billion Internet users
     (including those who access at an internet cafe
     or via a mobile phone); and 3.9 billion FM radio
     receivers – but 4.6 billion mobile phone              It is nevertheless certain that if the high
     subscriptions. A mobile phone account for 68          cost barrier were removed, innovation
     per cent of the planet already! (5 February,          would take off in Africa. In the view of
     2010, The Big Picture "All the Stats" Total View      Steve Song: "Low cost of access can turn
     to      Mobile     Industry,    2010      Edition,
     <http://communities-                                  a country into a super-power by enabling            everyone to be an innovator. This
     picture-stats-view-to-mobile-industry-2010-           explosion of innovation is non-linear.
     edition.html> The blog of the book Communities        Increasingly, any country without very low
     Dominate Brands Business and marketing
     challenges for the 21st century, by Tomi T
                                                           cost access is like a child left on the
     Ahonen and Alan Moore.                                platform as the train of the knowledge
40                                                         economy pulls out. Africa has a billion
     In the report African telecommunication
     indicators 2004, p 11: “Indeed, if many pundits       resilient, amazing, creative people in it. A
     are correct, and the cause of low Internet            very tiny percentage of them have the kind
     penetration in Africa (only 1.6 per cent at the end   of wealth that would give them freedom to
     of 2003) is due to a lack of infrastructure, then     innovate without fear of failure. It's great
     high speed mobile could be a major
     improvement.” It could be based on optical fibre
                                                           that    mobiles    have     created    more
     technology which is also used in Africa, is a         efficiencies on the continent and some
     better system for high bandwidths and can be          innovation. Driving down the cost of
     installed with other networks; with water,            access will give African countries super
     electricity and roads, there are no alternative       innovation powers…" (Song 2009).
     solutions but they are nevertheless prerequisites
     of sustainable development.

                   Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Similarly, States and regulating authorities               is no doubt that the advent of high
have grasped the crucial role which they                   interconnection capacities via undersea
must play to promote an environment                        cables on the African continent 42 will
conducive to investment with the aim of                    radically change the situation and prompt
achieving universal access and developing                  operators there to seek new sources of
innovations that will make it possible to                  revenue. The inventiveness typified by
attain a critical mass of users41. And there               mobile voice telephony will make itself felt
     This was clearly expressed at the Global
     Symposium for Regulators in 2009 (GSR09),
     which defined guidelines on good practices with
     regard to innovative approaches to regulation in
     a world characterized by convergence with a
     view to strengthening the foundations of a global          See the Many possibilities site, which provides
     information society;                                       regularly updated charts of undersea cables for
     See:                      connecting       the        African      continent
     D/treg/Events/Seminars/GSR/index.html.                     (

            Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

    ACACIA, (2006). Descriptif ACACIA 2006-2011, Direction générale des programmes et des
    partenariats, Centre de recherches pour le développement international, 17 février 2006.

    AHONEN TT., MOORE A., (2010) : The blog of the book Communities Dominate Brands
    Business and marketing challenges for the 21st century, (February 05, 2010, The Big Picture
    "All the Stats" Total View to Mobile Industry, 2010 Edition, <http://communities-


    BANKS K., SELANIKIO J., – Ten things you might want to know before building for mobile,

    BEARDON H. (2009) – How mobile technologies can enhance Plan and partners work in
    Africa Guide prepared for Plan January 2009 Plan Finland Pasilanraitio 5, 2nd floor, 00240

    BOYERA S., (2009), Mobile Web for Social Development Roadmap, W3C Interest Group Note
    08 December 2009, (

    BOYERA S., SADOWSKY G.,(2009) – Workshop Executive Summary April 1-2 2009, Maputo,
    Mozambique, Stéphane Boyera, George Sadowsky,Workshop Chairs, W3C, Mobile Web

    BRETON P., PROULX S. – L’Explosion de la communication à l’aube du XXIe siècle, La
    Découverte, Paris, 2002.

    BRUIJN (DE) M., NYAMNJOH F. B., BRINKMAN I. (eds.) (2009) : Mobile Phones : The New
    Talking Drums of Everyday Africa, Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group
    African Studies Centre (ASC), Leyden.

    CARDON D.,(2005) – Innovation par l’usage, in Alain Ambrosi A., Valérie Peugeot V.,
    Pimienta D., (coord) ; Enjeux de mots : regards multiculturels sur les sociétés de l’information.
    C & F Éditions.

    CASTELLS, M., FERNÁNDEZ-ARDÈVOL, M., QIU, J. L., SEY, A. (2007) : Mobile
    Communication and Society : A Global Perspective (Information Revolution and Global
    Politics), Cambridge, MA : MIT Press.

    CERTEAU (de) M., (1980) – L’invention du quotidien, tome 1 : Arts de faire, Paris, UGE,
    collection 10/18.

    CHÉNEAU-LOQUAY A. (2008) – « Rôle joué par l’économie informelle dans l’appropriation
    des TIC en milieu urbain en Afrique de l’ouest », co-publication Netcom, vol 21 n° 3-4 et
    Netsuds n°4.

    CHÉNEAU-LOQUAY A. (2009) – Le projet ADEN, l’appui au désenclavement numérique :
    quelle viabilité ? in Netsuds N° 4, août 2009, CEAN-l’Harmattan.

    COMBES C., (2005) – Les MIX pour territorialiser l’Internet, communication présentée à
    Autrans en 2005. Dossier sur le site de

            Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

     DAHMANI A et ALII (s/d), (2007) – La démocratie à l’épreuve de la société numérique, Paris,

     DONNER, J (2008) – Research Approaches to mobile Use in the Developing World, A review
     of the literature.

     DONNER, J. (2010) – Mobile-based livelihood services in Africa : pilots and early
     Deployments, Chapter 1 Section 1. Shaping the economic sphere in Fernández-Ardèvol, M.,
     Ros, A. (eds.) : Communication Technologies in Latin America and Africa : A multidisciplinary
     perspective, pp. initial page –final page. Barcelona, IN3.

     DUPUY G., 2002, Internet, Géographie d’un réseau, Ellipses, collection Carrefour, Paris.

     ENDA GRAF SAHEL (2001) – Une Afrique s'invente : recherches populaires et
     apprentissages démocratiques, Khartala-ENDAGRAF SAHEL.


     GARRON I. (2008) – Usages du téléphone mobile en Afrique subsaharienne, Contrat de
     recherche avec Orange Labs, Institut TELECOM/TELECOM ParisTech/CNRS-LTCI, premier
     état des résultats, Atelier du Lundi 28 janvier 2008.

     GILLWALD A., (2009) – The Poverty of Policy and Practice, Essay by September 21, 2009 in
     response to A Dialogue on ICTs, Human Development, Growth, and Poverty Reduction., the Communication and Human
     Development : The Freedom Connection ? event taking place on 9/23/09, hosted by the
     Berkman Center and sponsored by Canada's International Development Research Centre.

     GNAMIEN G – Différenciation des accès et usages des NTIC dans la ville d’Abidjan :
     l’exemple de la téléphonie mobile, mémoire de DEA en géographie, Bordeaux III, 2002, A.
     Chéneau-Loquay (dir). Voir sur le siteésultats.

     GUEYE M. (2010) – Le site portail, lieu virtuel de convergence des Sénégalais
     disséminés à travers le monde,in Netsuds n° 5 CEAN-l’Harmattan.

     GUILLAUD        H.,   (2009)    –    Mythes-et-réalites-des-usages-mobiles-dans-les-pays-en-
     pays-en-developpement-13-le-mobile-nest-pas-linternet-helas/ le 10/11/09).

     HAHN, H.P., et KIBORA, L., 2008 – « The Domestication of the Mobile Phone : Oral Society
     and New ICT in Burkina Faso », The Journal of Modern African Studies, 46, pp 87-109

     ICT update, Août 2009 Numéro 50 : 50ème numéro spécial

     ITU (2008) African telecommunication/ ICT Indicators 2008 – At a crossroads

     JAGUN A. HEEKS R. WHALLEY J. (2007) – Mobile Telephony and Developing Country
     Micro-Enterprise : A Nigerian Case Study, Paper No. 29, Development Informatics Working
     Paper Series, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester,

     KENNETH F. G. MASUKI (2010) – Mobile Phones for Information Delivery in Agriculture, ICT
     and Development - Research Voices from Africa. International Federation for Information
     Processing (IFIP), Technical Commission 9 – Relationship between Computers and Society.
     Workshop at Makerere University, Uganda. 22-23 March 2010.

       Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

KIBORA Ludovic – « Téléphonie mobile. L’appropriation du SMS par une ″société de
l’oralité″ », In : Mirjam de Bruijn, Francis Nyamnjoh & Inge Brinkman, Mobile phones : The
news talking drums of everyday Africa, Langaa (Mankon, Cameroun) and African studies
centre (Leiden, Hollande), 2009.

LAUTIER B., DE MIRAS C., MORICE A, 1991 – L’Etat et l’informel, Paris, L'Harmattan, 211 p.

MARTIN B. ABBOTT E. (2010) – Development Calling : The Use of Mobile Phones in
Agriculture Development in Uganda, 13p, conference paper, Workshop at Makerere
University, Uganda. 22-23 March 2010.

MAURIZIO FERRARIS – T’es où ? Ontologie du téléphone mobile (traduit de l’Italien par
Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat), Albin Michel, Paris, 2006, p. 83.

MELCHIOLY S., SÆBØ Ø. (2010) – ICT and Development – Research Voices from Africa.
International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), Technical Commission 9 –
Relationship Between Computers and Society. Workshop at Makerere University, Uganda. 22-
23 March 2010.

MOBILE ACTIVE – A Mobile Voice : The Use of Mobile Phones in Citizen Media, Dynamics of
the role of mobile phones in enhancing access to and creating information and citizen-
produced media, - November 2008

MOBILE WEB FOR DEVELOPMENT (2007) – World Wide Web Consortium, (Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics,
Keio University). (

MOBILES IN A BOX, études de cas, (

MULROW J. (2010) – Think mobile, act local Updating Schumacher : cell phones as
appropriate technology. WORLD•ATC Volume 23, Number 3 Vision for a Sustainable World
May/June 2010 n°22.

NDIAYE M. (2008) – Approche comparative de l’appropriation de la téléphonie mobile et de
l’Internet dans les lieux d’accès publics des villes de Rennes et de Thies, thèse soutenue à
l’Université Rennes 2.

NKWI GAM W. – « From the elitist to the commonality of voice communication : The history of
the telephone in Buea, Cameroon », In : Mirjam de Bruijn, Francis Nyamnjoh & Inge Brinkman,
Mobile phones : The news talking drums of everyday Africa, Langaa (Mankon, Cameroun) and
African studies centre (Leiden, Hollande), 2009.

PAULDING D. (2009) – Cellphones cause call centre boom for banks in Africa, Wednesday,
September 9, 2009, 6 : 58, Africa, Nigeria, Press Release, Rwanda,

PIERNÉ G.,(2007) – Les TIC et le développement de la pêche au Sénégal, rapport de stage
2007, réseau Netsuds, inédit.

PROPARCO (2009) – Secteur privé et développement, La téléphonie mobile dans les pays en
développement : quels impacts économiques et sociaux ? N° 4, novembre 2009.

SELANIKIO J., (2008), BBC NEWS | Technology | The invisible computer revolution, 17
January 2008, 10 :35 GMT -

SMITH M.,SPENCE R. – A Dialogue on ICTs, Human Development, Growth, and Poverty
Reduction In A Dialogue on ICTs and Poverty : The Harvard Forum, septembre 2003.

             Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

     SONG S. (2009) – Mobiles versus laptops, 16 janvier 2009,

     TALL S. M. (2002) – Les émigrés sénégalais face aux enjeux des nouvelles technologies de
     l’information et de la communication, in Momar Coumba DIOP (dir), Le Sénégal à l’heure de
     l’information. Technologies et société, Karthala-UNRISD, 2002, p. 35.

     UIT (2009) – Connecter l’Afrique, Investir dans le progrès de l’Afrique, volume 2, janvier 2009

     UIT-D (2009) – « Profil statistique de la société de l’information : Afrique », Genève, juin,

     UN Foudation/Vodafone Foundation, Mhealth for Development – A report of the use of mobile
     phone in health and development October 2008

     Vital Wave Consulting. (2009) mHealth for Development – The Opportunity of Mobile
     Technology for Healthcare in the Developing World. Washington, D.C. and Berkshire, UK : UN
     Foundation-Vodafone Foundation Partnership, 2009.

     WEST J. (2008) – The Promise of Ubiquity, Mobile as Media Platform in the global South,
     Internews Europe © 2008. online at

     WORLD BANK (2009) – Information and Communications for Development 2009 : Extending
     Reach and Increasing Impact.

     ZIBI G., (2009) – Promesses et incertitudes du marché africain de la téléphonie mobile, in
     Secteur privé et développement, La téléphonie mobile dans les pays en développement :
     quels impacts économiques et sociaux ? N° 4, novembre 2009.

     ZUCKERMAN E. (blog) –

This report is published by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the International Telecommu-
nication Union (ITU). It was drawn up by Ms Annie Chéneau-Loquay, Research Director at the National Centre for
Scientific Research (CNRS), as part of a cooperation project between the Ministry and the ITU.

The democratization of mobile telephony in Africa, its availability, ease of use and, above all, the extent to which it
has been appropriated by the public, have made it a major success story. Very low-income populations are not only
actively demanding access to mobile telephone services but also innovating, by creating the functions and applica-
tions they can use. Development is thus happening “from the bottom up” and an entire economy, both formal and
informal in nature, has come into being to meet people’s needs.

Many different actors – private, public, NGOs – are now mobilized. Operators and manufacturers have successfully
changed their economic model and adapted their products and applications to allow access to services at affordable
prices. NGOs have in addition created a range of messaging-based services in different sectors.

However, the future evolution of mobile telephony is not clear. A range of different approaches will co-exist, from
SMS up to full Internet capacity, including experimental initiatives using smart phones and “netbooks”. Falling costs
will lead to an increase in the number of phone devices with data receiving capacity. Individuals and companies
involved in creating services or applications for development will need to take account of their users’ demographics
and incomes, as well as the pricing systems of telecommunication companies in countries where they wish to ope-

In this, States and regulating authorities have grasped the crucial role which they must play in promoting an invest-
ment-friendly environment with the goal of achieving universal access and stimulating innovation – key factors in
achieving a “critical mass” of users.

The advent on the African continent of high-capacity links via submarine cables will change the ground rules and
force operators to seek new sources of revenue. The inventiveness that has already been evident in mobile voice te-
lephony will be needed once again if the “mobile divide” (in terms of costs, power supply, and so on) is not to widen.

This report takes stock of developments in this sector, which is crucial to Africa’s economic development, and sug-
gests a number of possible directions it might take.

Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs                    International Telecommunication Union
Directorate-General of Global Affairs,                      ICT Applications and Cybersecurity Division
Development and Partnerships                                Policies and Strategies Department
Culture and French Language Policy Directorate              ITU Telecommunication Development Sector
Media, Cinema and Communication Technologies

27, rue de la Convention                                    Place des Nations
CS 91533 75732 Paris Cedex 15                               1211 Geneva 20
Tel: +33 1 43 17 53 53
Fax: +33 1 43 17 89 57                                      Tel: +41 22 730 5111
                                                            Fax: +41 22 733 7256
E-mail:              E-mail:                            

                                                                                                     Printed in Switzerland
                                                                                                              Geneva, 2010

                                                                                                    Photo credits :

To top